They Know Him Well: Royals Find a Familiar Face in Their Dugout
South Royalton baseball coach Mike Ballou encourages his team after a good inning during yesterday’s game against Danville. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
South Royalton pitcher Nate Moore delivers against Danville yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
South Royalton — Prior to the South Royalton School baseball team’s 3-1 win over Danville at Alumni Field yesterday, Royals coach Mike Ballou was still speaking with umpires at home plate when his team conducted their pre-game rally chant without him.
“You guys didn’t wait for me!” Ballou said while belatedly trotting over to the gathering.
Excuse the Royals if they’re accustomed to taking Ballou’s presence for granted.
The youngest in a long family lineage of in Royalton baseball mentors, Ballou, 49, coached many of today’s varsity players in youth league through the last decade. During the last two years, he was an assistant under Marty Adams.
“I’ve coached guys like (juniors) Hunter Brock, Alex Berk, Leif Johnson and (senior) Troy Tracy since they were 7 or 8 years old,” said Ballou, who’s also instructed his son, David, since T-ball. “A couple of the other guys, from Tunbridge, like Nate Moore and Thomas Ingham, I’ve been coaching since they were 12.”
Ballou’s history with South Royalton baseball goes much further than having the present roster at the youth level. He played for his grandfather, Ray, in Little League in the 1970s before suiting up for the Royals under the tutelage of his father, Jim, in the early ’80s. A star pitcher who helped the Royals win state titles during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, Mike Ballou went on to pitch for the University of Maine from 1983-86. The Black Bears reached the College World Series during his freshman, junior and senior seasons, the latter of which he served as both a starter and closer.
“(My college career) was a lot of fun,” Ballou recalled. “I played against more than 50 players who went on to play in the major leagues.”
Undrafted himself despite strong numbers at Maine, Ballou stayed involved with the game by returning home to coach in the town where he first learned to play during sandlot games on the town common.
“When we didn’t have enough guys, which was most of the time, a big maple tree was first base and if (someone fielding the ball) just threw the ball and hit the maple tree, the batter was out,” Ballou recalled.
A physical education teacher at White River Elementary School, Ballou coached at Hartford High from 1995-99, helping the Hurricanes reach at least the second round of the Vermont Division I postseason three times.
When asked why he left Hartford High to return to coaching youth league in Royalton, Ballou stated simply, “Because this is home.”
“Coaching in South Royalton is all about community,” Ballou said. “You really get a chance to work with the kids directly and coach them to play the game the right way. If you look at this group of guys, I think that’s what they do.”
They certainly did yesterday, beginning on the mound with an outstanding performance from Moore. With a decisive and efficient execution, the junior registered a career-best 14 strikeouts in a complete game two-hitter with two walks. He had a no-hitter with one walk going through 5 2∕3 innings before the defending state champion Indians scored on back-to-back hits with two outs in the sixth.
“I had a lot of strikeouts because I was hitting the corners and my curve ball was working for me pretty good,” Moore said. “When the ball was put in play, the infielders and outfielders were doing their jobs and it made it a lost easier.”
South Royalton was fundamentally strong offensively, too, scoring enough to win despite managing just two hits off Danville starter Kyle Johnson (two innings, hit, four walks, two runs) and reliever Brett Elliott (four innings, two strikeouts, walk).
With one out in the second inning, Berk reached on a throwing error and stole both second and third base before scoring on a passed ball through the legs of Indians catcher Coleton Loura-Bumps. With two outs, Leif Johnson walked, and Keanan Thompson lined a single into right and Darren Cilley walked to load the bases for David Ballou, who drew another walk on a full-count to plate Johnson and make it 3-0.
Brock led off the third with a double off the glove of diving Danville right fielder Eric Remick, went to third on Thomas Ingham’s ground out and scored on a suicide squeeze bunt executed perfectly down the right field line by Berk to make it 3-0.
“These guys are pretty smart with the baseball, they’re pretty solid,” Mike Ballou said. “When the ball gets put in play, they usually know what base to throw it to. They play good defense, they hit well and they pitch well.”
South Royalton’s players say it’s been easy to develop skills under the demanding, but even-keeled, tutelage of coach Ballou.
“The best thing about playing for him is that the practices are intense, and it’s all about hard work,” David Ballou said. “He rewards hard work over talent, so that makes you want to work for him.”
Extra Bases: The Royals had blown consecutive seventh-inning leads to Danville, including during the Indians’ 3-2 win in last year’s semifinals. ... The Indians, 28-10 over the last two seasons, went on to win their second straight state title. ... Yesterday’s game was originally scheduled for Danville, but its home field in the Northeast Kingdom is unplayable because of snow and ice cover. ... The flag at center field was lowered to half mast in recognition of the dead and injured from the explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.